These are the final chapters. Matheson does a great job of continuing to create change in Neville. He’s encountered another human who is apparently immune as well, Ruth. He’s cold and distrustful at first, now having been in isolation for about 3 years.
He suddenly realized that he had become an ill-tempered and inveterate bachelor again. He no longer thought about his wife, his child, his past life. The present was enough.
But one night, he wakes to see Ruth standing in the shadows, and confuses her with his long dead wife. It breaks him, and he is reduced to tears, embracing Ruth in a moment of common comfort.
I have one issue with how Matheson starts Chapter 17. It may seem small, but it pulled me out of the story. Neville wakes, crying out “Virge!”. So far as I can tell, unless I missed something, this is the first instance we have of Neville referring to his wife this way. Prior, it was always Virginia. As a reader, I was confused, as I’ve never heard Virge used as a nickname for Virginia, although I’ve heard it used for Virgil. It was only a page or so later that I made the connection. As a writer, this is something I try to avoid. I believe firmly that names need to be consistent throughout, and that any nicknames for characters must be established as early as possible. Okay - enough about that.
The rest of the piece was a surprise for me. I have to admit, I saw the movie, and so I think my expectations were tainted. Sure, there’s similarities, but they are different stories. I wasn’t surprised by Neville’s resistance to moving out of the house, even after Ruth’s stark warning. It fit perfectly with what I expected of a hermit who’s so settled in his ways.
I was, however, surprised that he had resigned not to fight when they came for him. But, it wasn’t enough to distract me from the story. Neville is captured and held prisoner. Even in the face of certain death, even after all he’s been through, Neville has retained core human characteristics:
In spite of having lived with death all these years, in spite of having walked a tightrope of bare existence across an endless may of death – in spite of that he couldn’t understand it. Personal death still was a thing beyond comprehension.
What I find most interesting about how this ends is the parrallel Matheson draws between that last piece of humanity as it was (Neville) and the first establishment of humanity as it will be (the “Vampire” society). The interaction between Neville and Ruth at the end, the dialog, her assistance in his suicide, the kiss between them show there’s a common thread that persists even though the biology has changed.
The realization at the end is powerful as well. Matheson has set things up very well to pull of what happens to Neville and what he thinks as he stares out the window at the new society, preparing to kill himself:
Then sudden silence, as though a heavy blanket had fallen over their heads. They all stood looking up at him with their white faces. He stared back. And suddenly he thought, I’m the abnormal one now.
It is the stake in his heart, so to speak. A deep understanding that his fight for survival was a key part in the transition of the human race, and that his part was at an end. I can’t imagine a more appropriate way to end this story, nor a more appropriate title:
I am legend.